Game Review: Galactic Patrol (BBC Micro, Mastertronic)

Galactic Patrol, BBC Micro, Mastertronic – IB0105
  • 5/10
    Score - 5/10


While it’s far from being a classic, Galactic Patrol does offer some variety and originality in its different levels and is ambitious from a graphical perspective. It was just about worth it’s budget price at the time and may be worth a play now, albeit not for long.

User Review
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Acorn Exclusive

Galactic Patrol is quite a rare beast – a Mastertronic game that is exclusive to the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron. It was also the publisher’s biggest-selling game for the Acorn machines, with over 25,000 copies sold. It outsold the far more recognisable Kane by a few hundred copies, though the less said about the Beeb version of that game, the better. Separate BBC and Electron versions were developed, but supplied on each side of a cassette in the same packaging. On the subject of packaging, the cover artwork is not one of Mastertronic’s finest, with a neat logo spoiled by the rather gormless-looking alien below it.

Ready, Starfighter?

Upon loading the game, you’re presented with an attractive title screen whose 3D grid effect really fits the bill for a Mastertronic game from this era. It’s accompanied by a reasonably good tune by Beeb standards. Following that you get two instruction screens, the first giving an overview of your mission and the second telling you the keyboard controls. Like the majority of BBC games, there’s no joystick supported in this one.

You play the role of a Starfighter pilot in the Galactic Patrol and your mission is to help transport colonists across the galaxy, fighting off alien attackers when necessary. Your mission consists of five stages, the first of which takes place on the surface of an unnamed planet. Colonists will walk from the building on the left side of the screen to the transport ship on the right. Controlling a crosshairs, you must protect them from the alien craft that swoop in to try and abduct them. The more colonists that safely make it to the craft, the more shields you’ll receive in the next stage.

The remaining stages take place in deep space and you control your Starfighter from this point on. In stage 2 you must protect the transport ship by blasting the alien craft that swoop down and try to drain its shields. If the shields run out, it’s game over. Despite your efforts, the next stage sees the transport ship stranded in space and you must dock with it to transfer the colonists to your fighter. You only have a limited time to complete this task.

Stage 4 sees your ship approaching the Starfleet, but you must first negotiate their outer defences. These consist of a series of force walls that must be avoided, along with a lethal homing device that will destroy your ship if it makes contact. If you make it through that then all that remains is to dock with a Starfleet ship to safely deliver the colonists and complete the mission. Following this, you return to a new planet to begin another patrol, with the enemies now moving faster.

Galactic Patrol – Ambitious, but flawed

Galactic Patrol is pretty impressive from a graphical perspective. The opening level on the planet is quite crudely drawn, but once you get into space you’re given a series of faux-3D levels that see your ship viewed from behind, flying into the screen. These are rendered quite well, with the stars smoothly moving towards you to give an illusion of speed and the alien craft expanding in size as they get closer to the transport ship. Your lasers even adapt to your screen position, firing to a point above your craft when you’re at the bottom of the screen, more centrally in the middle and downwards when you’re near the top.

Your ship and the transport are both drawn well, with the latter changing colour when it is in trouble, and the aliens have a classic UFO look, though some variety in them would have been welcome. The in-game sounds are best described as functional, with laser shots and explosion noises being about all you get, aside from an annoying engine roar on the fourth stage.

The game unfortunately falls short in the gameplay department, with the main issue being speed. Your crosshairs and ship move very slowly, and much slower than the alien ships on the first two stages, so it’s very hard to actually keep up with them to shoot them down. On the first level this is exacerbated by only being able to use the keyboard, as any game that uses a targeting crosshair really needs the faster adaptability of joystick control to work well. As a result, the best approach for the first two stages is to stay near the bottom of the screen, protecting the colonists and only blasting enemies if they come in range.

Levels 3 and 5 are essentially identical, as all you have to do to dock the with the larger ship is land on it within a fairly generous time limit. There’s virtually no challenge here and it is very easy to complete these stages, so they just seem like filler.

The most difficult stage is the fourth one, with a series of green waffle-shaped walls randomly hurtling towards you, while you also have to keep moving to avoid the homing drone. One hit here ends the game, so you need to be fully focused on your task. Eventually though, this level becomes impossible to complete as from the fifth mission onwards, the homing enemy moves faster than your own ship, making the end of the game inevitable.

There are niggles with the presentation too, such as having no idea what your score is until the game ends, or how long you need to last on each level to complete it. The scoring also seems quite erratic and it’s not clear what you’re really getting points for on most of the levels.

From a visual perspective, Galactic Patrol is of a good standard for a budget game, but the speed issues really impact the playability, making it an odd mixture of tedium and frustration. The game offers a reasonable high score challenge for a few attempts, ironically until you start to get good at it and the increased speed of the enemies effectively results in a kill screen. It probably offers just about enough gameplay to be worth the modest asking price, but it’s not a game you’d come back to very often once you’d played it a few times.

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